Gen Con Review – Family Fun Found All Around

Cardhalla at Gen Con

by Vivian Obarski

I’ve been attending Gen Con for more than 15 years and this year I came back from it exhausted. Not in the usual “I’ve overloaded on games and as a result had no sleep” exhausted. No, in this case it was the exhaustion of introducing my daughter to gaming and ensuring that she had a good beginner experience.

Thankfully I wasn’t treading new ground in this territory. Over the years, I’ve seen more and more families coming to the convention — people are treating this as a family vacation in the same way that other families go to Disney parks every year. As a result, I got some good advice from the Gen Con forums on how to space the day out and not overload my seven-year-old.

The best piece of advice (which I slightly disregarded on Thursday and won’t do again) was not to overload my child, scheduling one event in the morning and one in the afternoon, while making sure to block out free time for the kids to run around or explore other parts of Indianapolis. Sadly, we didn’t get to the zoo nor the children’s museum — both of which I have heard very good things.

But all the advice and tips helped. The Family Fun Pavilion was a great place to while away some free time in the dealers’ area. Loaded with crafts, games and volunteers who really did enjoy interacting with families and children, my daughter had a blast making stuff and whacking people with pool noodles. There were a lot of games available for kids — my girl got to play a fairy in the Frozen movie (yes I know there’s no fairies in the Frozen movie — but the game had to be built on something) and a lot of Pathfinder role-playing games. All of those games were timed perfectly for shorter attention spans, maxing out at two hours.

What surprised me the most was the fact that the granddaddy of all gaming systems — Dungeons and Dragons — didn’t have any kids/beginner’s events scheduled, especially in the wake of the release of Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons. This would be an opportune moment for Wizards of the Coast to showcase their new system after so much play-testing and discussion. But there wasn’t that kid-focus. I know they ran Encounters  which is an hour-long taste of Dungeons and Dragons, but it wasn’t marketed under the Kids’ Events listings, where most parents would spend their time trying to create the optimal gaming experience for their little ones. Frankly, for me it was a puzzling marketing move.

Gen Con seems to be courting families more thanks to the the “Family Fun Pass” which allowed families (up to four people) to come to the convention on Sunday for a low, low price of $30. I can’t speak on exact numbers, but I saw more families combing the dealer’s floor in costume and demoing games. This would’ve been a prime opportunity for many companies to woo future gamers with an hour-long demo of their game.

I have to offer kudos to Paizo and Pathfinder because of the Kids’ Track. As a gamer I never contemplated playing Pathfinder before — it was too similar to Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons for my taste (which is why a lot of gamers I know love it, especially in the wake of Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons). But because they hooked my daughter, gave her a great experience gaming with other kids and some fantastic gamemasters running the game, we bought the Beginners’ Box Set. Which means that we’ll be playing that pretty soon with her. I’m pretty sure we’re not the only family who came away with the same impression.

Random gamer observations — aka another article for the price of one!

During my own personal gamer time, I managed to see Mayfair Games’ charity event that featured the Cones of Dunshire — aka that game Ben Wyatt made up on Parks and Recreation. The crowd for that was huge and I suspect that most of us were just curious to see how the game would work — or even if it could work.

Lana and Cyril from Archer Cosplay

Thankfully Mayfair Games had that same attitude, cracking jokes about how they now have a game “where you roll the dice to see how many dice you roll.” While the game looked like chaos to an outsiders’ perspective (I admittedly don’t have patience for anything more advanced than Settlers of Catan), it was clear that the players who ponied up $100 per person to play (all proceeds going to Gleaners Food Bank) were having a great time. I do hope that the person who won the Ledgerman position (auctioned off for $775) had a good time also.

Also, attendance for Gen Con hit another all-time high this year! Courting families with a reduced price pass on Sunday was a nice move for people who may not have the time nor the budget for a convention, but still love to game. It also seems like the city and neighboring businesses really work to woo convention goers with themed meals and drinks and food trucks surrounding the convention hall. Personally, I really enjoy it. Every time I’ve gone, I feel like I’ve discovered something new about the city, while also reveling in the familiar places. It’s a great move for tourism in the city.

Last thing — I know people offer essays on diversity in gaming and what it means to be a gender/race/sexual orientation/identifier in gaming and how hard it can be. And it can — I am not going to discount that there are convention creeps running around. But every year I notice Gen Con getting more diverse in ages, races, genders, etc. and it feels pretty nice. Some may argue that it’s “getting too politically correct”, but honestly? Bring it on.

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